Sep 7, 2012 / 9:00 pm
There is a marked lack of scientific knowledge about the vast northern river basin often referred to as the Amazon of the North, warns a panel of international experts gathered to discuss the future of the Mackenzie River Basin.
The watershed is three times the size of France, stretching through BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Yet it became evident over several days of meetings that it is the least studied and monitored in the world, said Dr. Henry Vaux, chairman of the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, a California-based think-tank that organized the panel in Vancouver.
"I would interpret the evidence to say that the existing science provides us with signs of some worrisome things out there that we need to understand better," said Vaux, who is also a resource economist at the University of California.
The forum gathered experts in science, law and politics who looked at science, governance and aboriginal knowledge of the river system. A final report will be issued in January that the panel hopes will help guide the six various governments toward shared management.
In the interim, Vaux said, the committee affirmed the global significance of the Mackenzie River basin, which has been described as a massive air conditioning system for the Earth.
At a time when climate change and global warming make daily headlines, there are "worrisome" trends in the basin, he said.
"The benefits that flow from that river basin accrue not just to Canadians and not just to North Americans but to people throughout the western hemisphere and around the globe," Vaux said Friday, at the conclusion of the meeting.
"The federal government and the provincial and territorial governments, as well as the appropriate aboriginal entities, are the stewards of that global resource."
The basin includes the Peace and Liard rivers in northern British Columbia, the South Nahanni and Peel rivers in the Yukon, and the Hay and Athabasca rivers in Alberta, all of which feed the 1,800-kilometre Mackenzie River.
It covers a staggering 1.8 million square kilometres of land, and takes in Great Slave, Great Bear and Athabasca lakes.
And it falls into six different government jurisdictions in Canada. Experts say the lack of an overall management plan poses the greatest risk.
The Mackenize basin has a direct impact on the formation of sea ice and fresh water flow into the Arctic Ocean. It is an international waypoint for migratory birds from around the globe, and it provides climate stability for the continent and likely beyond.
Bob Sandford, a water policy analyst and a member of the Rosenberg advisory committee, said there is evidence of climate change already in the basin. The changes are subtle but "worrisome."
"Now is not a good time to abandon the science," he said.
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